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It Helps to Get By With a Little Help

One last thought about motivating each other. The Beatles once sang, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” As it turns out, we all need a little help from our friends every now and then.

Case in point: A self-diagnosed workout-aholic, I was spending a beautiful Saturday morning running a few laps at my local track in preparation for an upcoming 10K race. A few laps into my run, a group of 12 decked out in head-to-toe camouflage fatigues joined my “ranks” (military pun intended). After quickly surveying the scene to make sure no official military action or invasion was taking place in Kansas (silly, I know), I finally figured out what this diverse group of ages and races was doing: the Army Physical Fitness Test, or the APFT.

I have covered military fitness for the magazine for more than two years, so I like to consider myself fairly knowledgeable about each branch's requirements and programs. However, I'd never seen an actual fitness test up close and personal (and without government clearance, no less). It was serendipitous to say the least.

The troops lined up at the starting line for their two-mile run, and once their sergeant yelled “Go!”, they were off. Some were faster than others. A couple of the younger and obviously in-shape guys sprinted off and easily finished the run in less than 15 minutes. (I decided to time them after they lapped me not once but twice.)

However, some of the older, heavier soldiers took a bit longer. In fact, after just one lap, their faces reddened and they slowed to a jog. By lap three, they were walking, gasping for breath. I imagine that because some of them were older, they probably had higher ranks in the military and were pretty distinguished. Yet here they were at the high school track, unable to run even half a mile.

I have spoken with countless military fitness professionals whose primary job is to prepare soldiers, airmen, etc., for this exact thing. They've always said it isn't easy — you can only motivate and train someone to a certain extent. Eventually, people have to take charge of their fitness.

At a health club, a person might simply fail to renew their membership, but failure is more serious for a service member. They have three choices: make the cut, go on probation or get kicked out of the Army entirely. Granted, I have no idea what the past APFT history of these runners is or if this was their first or final attempt to pass, so the urgency of this particular test was still up in the air. However, for drama's sake, let's assume that this was their final chance.

Here comes the warm and fuzzy part: Instead of quietly stretching or watching the last three guys and gals hurrying against time to the best of their ability, about five of the finishers went out to the other side of the track and ran alongside the winded runners/walkers shouting words of encouragement as they paced them.

This outwardly team-oriented cheerleader behavior warmed my heart. And sure enough, all of those in danger of failing to pass the test picked up their pace and crossed the finish line within their age- and gender-adjusted time. After each one finished, the team shouted and cheered.

Imagine how the health of the average American might change if every deconditioned layperson received this sort of attention. I'm not just talking about personal training clients — I mean all members. We need to teach all members how to enter their height and weight on the elliptical. We need to show them the proper form of a bicep curl. We need to encourage healthy eating. The deconditioned need a little extra help and a lot of encouragement.

My time on the track showed me that everyone needs a cheerleader every now and again — even those in the military.

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